Upper stage fails during 3rd test launch of Russia’s Angara rocket

In the third test launch of Russia’s new Angara rocket, intended as a replacement of its Proton rocket, the upper stage failed during the launch, placing the dummy satellite in the incorrect orbit that will decay in only a few days.

Launch was a partial failure after the upper stage shut down 2 seconds into the second burn leaving the dummy satellite in an incorrect very low parking orbit of 201 x 179 at an inclination of 63.4 degrees. The dummy spacecraft is likely to re-enter within a few days. The original plan was to use three upper stage burns to take the dummy spacecraft all the way into a “graveyard orbit” a few hundred kilometers above the circa 36,000 km circular geostationary Earth orbit (GEO).

The state-run Russian press TASS has attempted to paint this test flight as a success because the first stage operated as planned, but since the primary purpose of the flight was to test the new upper stage, dubbed Persei, the launch must be considered a failure. As an engineering test, however, this failure simply means they must figure out what went wrong and fly again.

In fact, the only real failure here is the slow pace in which Russia conducts these Angara test flights. This was only the third Angara test launch since 2014, with second occurring six years later in December 2020. That the third test was a year later should be considered unacceptable, and illustrates how the development of this rocket by the Russian government is very comparable to SLS, NASA’s own government rocket: slow, cumbersome, and inefficient.

The failure however means that this launch will not add to the total of successful Russian launches in 2021. The leader board in the 2021 launch race remains the same, with the total launches remaining at 132, tied with 1975 for the most active year in rocketry ever.

50 China
31 SpaceX
23 Russia
7 Europe (Arianespace)

According to an announcement today by Glavcosmos, the government agency that manages Russia’s commercial launches, it expects to launch 10 times next year, with three of those launches managed by Arianespace from French Guiana. This count does not include any Russian military, manned, or government launches, so the overall total will be higher, though it is unlikely to exceed by much this year’s total, and will more likely not match it.